While the Forest Department described those killed as belonging to the timber mafia, rights bodies claimed they were just poor and innocent tribals, who merely entered the forest in search of firewood and forest waste.
Jatiswar Bharati, a member of the Jalpaiguri branch of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), alleged that there were discrepancies in the death figures provided by Forest Department officials.
He quoted the field director of Buxa Tiger Reserve, Ravinder Pal Saini, as saying that 11 persons had died in firing at the reserve alone till 2009.
The Uttarbanga Bana Sramajibi Mancha (UBSM), a forest rights group, gave an example of Milan Rawtia, 39, a tribal worker from Loha Singh tea garden in the Terai's Naxalibari area, who was an innocent victim of the conflict.
The rights body quoted Milan's wife Reshmi as having claimed that her husband had entered the adjoining Taippo forest to fetch his cow at around 4 PM on June 21 when the forest guards shot him and took him to a hospital where he was declared dead.
He was accused of felling timber illegally, the rights body said.
On April 28 this year, Anil Kheria, a young tribal from Haldibari tea estate in Banarhat, was shot dead inside the Moraghat forest, while collecting firewood, his family claimed.
But, Forest Department sources claimed Anil was involved in illegal felling of trees.
Ritu Oraon, Anil's neighbour and a tribal Congress member of the Haldibari panchayat, alleged most of the victims were shot at while they collected firewood and non-timber minor forest produce such as tubers, fruits and mushrooms, which is legally permitted.